Evening Poetry, September 16

Messenger

by Mary Oliver

My work is loving the world.

Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—

equal seekers of sweetness.

Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.

Here the clam deep in the speckled sand. 

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?

Am I no longer young, and still half-perfect? Let me

keep my mind on what matters,

which is my work, 

which is mostly standing still and learning to be

astonished.

The phoebe, the delphinium.

The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.

Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here, 

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart

and these body-clothes,

a mouth with which to give shouts of joy

to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,

telling them all, over and over, how it is

that we live forever.

You can find this poem in Thirst.

Evening Poetry, September 15

Retreat

By John Fuller

I should like to live in a sunny town like this
Where every afternoon is half-day closing
And I would wait at the terminal for the one train
Of the day, pacing the platform, and no one arriving.

At the far end of the platform is a tunnel, and the train
Slows out of it like a tear from a single eye.
You couldn’t get further than this, the doors all opened
And the porter with rolled sleeves wielding a mop.

Even if one restless traveller were to arrive
With leather grip, racquets under the arm,
A belted raincoat folded over the shoulder,
A fishing hat, and a pipe stuck in his mouth,

There would be nowhere for him to move on to
And he would settle down to tea in the lounge
Of the Goat Hotel, doing yesterday’s crossword,
And would emerge later, after a nap, for a drink.

You meet them in the bar, glassy-eyed, all the time.
They never quite unpack, and expect letters
From one particular friend who doesn’t write.
If you buy them a drink they will tell you their life history:

‘I should have liked to live in a sunny town like this,
Strolling down to the harbour in the early evening,
Looking at the catch. Nothing happens here.
You could forget the ill-luck dogging you.

‘I could join the Fancy Rat Society and train
Sweet peas over the trellised porch
Of my little slice of stuccoed terrace. I could
Be in time for the morning service at Tesco’s.

‘I expect death’s like this, letters never arriving
And the last remembered failure at once abandoned
And insistent, like a card on a mantelpiece.
What might it be? You can take your choice.

‘ “I shook her by the shoulders in a rage of frustration.”
“I smiled, and left the room without saying a word.”
“I was afraid to touch her, and never explained.”
“I touched her once, and that was my greatest mistake.” ’

You meet them before dinner. You meet them after dinner,
The unbelieved, the uncaressed, the terrified.
Their conversation is perfectly decent but usually
It slows to a halt and they start to stare into space.

You would like it here. Life is quite ordinary
And the self-pity oozes into the glass like bitters.
What’s your poison? Do you have a desire to drown?
We’re all in the same boat. Join us. Feel free.

And when the bar closes we can say goodbye
And make our way to the terminal where the last
(Or is it the first?) train of the day is clean and waiting
To take us slowly back to where we came from.

But will we ever return? Who needs us now?
It’s the town that requires us, though the streets are empty.
It’s become a habit and a retreat. Or a form of justice.
Living in a sunny town like this.

You can find this poem in Collected Poems.

Evening Poetry, September 14

Granadilla

By Amy Lowell

I cut myself upon the thought of you
And yet I come back to it again and again,
A kind of fury makes me want to draw you out
From the dimness of the present
And set you sharply above me in a wheel of roses.
Then, going obviously to inhale their fragrance,
I touch the blade of you and cling upon it,
And only when the blood runs out across my fingers
Am I at all satisfied.

You can find this poem in The Complete Poetical Works by Amy Lowell.

Evening Poetry, August 18

You can find this in The Book of a Monastic Life in Rilke’s Book of Hours.

I,6

by Rainer Maria Rilke

You, God, who live next door–

If at times, through the long night, I trouble you

with my urgent knocking–

this is why: I hear you breathe so seldom.

I know you’re all alone in that room.

If you should be thirsty, there’s no one

to get you a glass of water.

I wait listening, always. Just give me a sign!

I’m right here.

As it happens, the wall between us

is very thin. Why couldn’t a cry

from one of us

break it down? It would crumble

easily.

it would barely make a sound.

Evening Poetry, July 25

Charlotte Brontë’s Grave

by Emily Dickinson

All overgrown by cunning moss,

All interspersed with weed,

The little cage of “Currer Bell”,

In quiet Haworth laid.

This bird, observing others,

When frosts too sharp became,

Retire to other latitudes,

Quietly did the same.

But differed in returning;

Since Yorkshire hills are green,

Yet not in all the nests I meet

Can nightingale be seen.

Gathered from many wanderings,

Gethsemane can tell

Through what transporting anguish

She reached the asphodel!

Soft fall the sounds of Eden

Upon her puzzled ear;

Oh, what an afternoon for heaven,

When Bronte entered there!

You can find this poem in Hope Is the Thing With Feathers: The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson.

One Book I Didn’t Finish and Why I Don’t Always Finish Books

I’ve heard nothing but high praise for The Huntress by Kate Quinn. Since I didn’t read The Alice Network, I thought I’d see what all the fuss was about. I placed a hold at the library and as soon as I finished City of Girls (loved it!), I opened it up. Post-WW2, the Nuremberg Trials, two men on the trail of Nazi criminals, a woman fleeing from justice…It could be good, I thought. But six or seven chapters in, I still wasn’t feeling it, so I quit.

What I liked about The Huntress: the writing was solid and the story didn’t stagnate. From one chapter to the next, readers are introduced to the various main characters in turn, each round building on their backstories and moving the plot forward. There was danger, romance, and suspense: all the important elements in a novel.

What I didn’t like: Overall, none of the characters (except Nina) intrigued me or made me want to invest in the story. Also, the huntress is revealed right away, so there’s no mystery as to who she is. I guess the suspense is how she is going to be caught, but that took away a lot of excitement for me.

Also, this is dumb, but one of the characters is a young American woman named Jordan. The novel begins in 1946. Tell me who in white-bread America named their baby girl Jordan in 1928, which would’ve been the year she was born? I have a believability radar for films and novels and this was just off the charts unbelievable and silly. People were naming their girls Doris, Ruth, Mildred, and Betty in 1928–not Jordan.

I also didn’t care for the two men who are tracking down the huntress. Nothing particularly wrong with them, they just seemed run-of-the-mill stock military guys with no real personalities.

I may not have given this book enough time, it’s possible. If you liked it, please don’t be offended! We don’t all like the same things and that’s what makes reading and the reading community so much fun. I learn about books I’d never have dreamt of picking because other readers recommend them.

My reading philosophy is that life is short and there are too many books I want to read, so I better make sure they are books I actually want to read. Because my TBR is always growing, and I don’t read for a living (yet, anyway!), I want to read books that either captivate my attention with the characters or the plot. Recently I listened to the podcast episode of Getting Bookish With Shawna and Lizz where they talk about their DNF (Did Not Finish) books. You might enjoy this episode!

Are you a reader who has to finish whatever she starts? Or do you regularly say no to books that just aren’t for you? I find that the more I read, the more I discard. At least half, if not more, of the books I bring home from the library get sent back with only the first few chapters read.

I’d love to hear what you thought of The Huntress. If you read it, please comment below or tell me about whatever else you’ve picked up or discarded lately.

Evening Poetry, June 15

Peonies at Dusk

by Jane Kenyon

White peonies blooming along the porch

send out light

while the rest of the yard grows dim.

Outrageous flowers as big as human

heads! They’re staggered

by their own luxuriance: I had

to prop them up with stakes and twine.

The moist air intensifies their scent,

and the moon moves around the barn

to find out what it’s coming from.

In the darkening June evening

I draw a blossom near, and bending close

search it as a woman searches

a loved one’s face.

This poem can be found in the collection Otherwise by Jane Kenyon.

Bird Therapy (Book Review)

Nearly every day I read articles about mental illness, burnout, and the stress of modern life. And do you know what almost always makes the list of ways to relieve or remedy the symptoms? Time spent in Nature! Time spent out-of-doors, away from screens surrounded by sky and trees, near bodies of water, in the company of birds and other wildlife will do much to calm the mind, relieve tension and stress, and leave one with an overall sense of wellbeing.

In Bird Therapy, Joe Harkness shares his personal story of living with OCD, generalized anxiety disorder, and depression, and how he manages it with hours outside birdwatching. Let me just say that even though the book begins with his mental state in a dark and dangerous place, the book doesn’t stay there and doesn’t focus on his illness. It’s a positive read about how much his life has changed for the better because of what he calls “Bird Therapy”.

If you’re like I was before reading this book, you might tend to think birdwatching is for retired, elderly people or just for super nerdy types. But the author became a birdwatcher as a young man, so the book is written with a youthful voice full of energy and enthusiasm.

In each chapter, he shares a different glimpse of his birdwatching journey, from his very first attempts to connect with other birders, to setting up his first bird feeders in his back garden, to finding a patch to call his own. He describes experiences of rare bird sightings, interactions with other birders, regular visits to his patch, and what it is like to birdwatch in different seasons. At the end of each chapter, he shares a list of helpful tips for people who would like to begin the birdwatching adventure.

An interesting and positive aspect of this book is that it’s published by Unbound, a crowd-funded indie publisher.

If you or someone you know struggles with mental illness, you would benefit from reading this book. Also, if you’re curious about birdwatching, especially about how to get started, read this book. After reading Bird Therapy, I am paying closer attention to the birds all around me, and am spending more time outside every day. Published on June 13, this book is recommended reading! One last note: you might want to check out Joe’s blog, also named Bird Therapy, about his birdwatching experiences.

I received a free e-copy of this book from Net Galley, but all opinions are completely my own.

3 KidLit Favorites From Childhood

My mom has told me many times how I would wake up early at six months old or so, she would place me in my playpen with a pile of magazines and picture books, and then she would return to bed. When she came to check on me, I would be happily leafing through the pages–not eating them or tearing them up.

Perhaps you loved books at a young age too, and if you did, you probably have favorite stories that your parent or grandparent read to you over and over. My earliest book memory was of a hardcover edition of Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. I loved that book to pieces, literally.

Like countless other young children, I found the words comforting, and Clement Hurd’s illustrations of kittens, mittens, and a cow jumping over the moon fascinating. The quiet old lady whispering hush was a mysterious figure in my two-year-old mind. Saying goodnight to all the things in the nursery was a ritual that I looked forward to; each familiar phrase soothed and lulled me closer to sleep.

The second book that I loved as a kid was Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban and Lillian Hoban. Have you read the Frances series? If not, go check them out at your library or purchase a few. Frances is an adorable, precocious young badger who, just like a young child, is learning to share, how to be a friend, that bedtime is non-negotiable, etc.

In Bread and Jam for Frances, she is being super picky and phobic about trying anything new. So her smart mother decides to give in to her and let her eat the only thing she wants–bread and jam. Morning, noon, and night. This works out well for a while, until Frances gets tired of the same thing and begins to hanker for what everyone else is eating. If you’ve never read these books, go get them. They’ll make you smile, and if you have small children around, they’ll love them too.

Another favorite book is part of a series: George and Martha One Fine Day written and illustrated by James Marshall. The George and Martha books are all HILARIOUS!!! George and Martha are hippo friends who get into awkward situations, play tricks on each other once in a while, learn about life and friendship, but are always there for one another. The illustrations will have you laughing just as much as the stories will. I read these books to my kids and they loved them too!

What are some of YOUR kidlit favorites?

Two British Mystery Series To Read This Summer

Last Friday, Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs Darcy shared an article from The Guardian about thrillers by women. In it, I found a few new-to-me authors I wanted to check out. After doing some reading on Amazon and Goodreads, I selected the first in Ann CleevesVera Stanhope mysteries, called The Crow Trap, and the first in Elly GriffithsRuth Galloway mysteries, called The Crossing Places.

There are several similarities to both series that helped me choose them:

1. They are set in the North East of England–Vera in Northumberland and Ruth in Norfolk.

2. They both feature women as the main characters; Vera Stanhope is a detective inspector and Ruth Galloway is an archeologist who is often asked to help in murder investigations.

3. Both women are independent, strong, quirky, middle-aged, and not beautiful by traditional standards.

4. The settings, both in rather remote places, are dark and atmospheric, the murders well-planned and the mysteries will keep you guessing until the end.

5. Both authors weave writing about local natural history, birds, and other local wildlife into the books.

I had watched some of the Vera Stanhope series on PBS a while ago, but never thought to look into the books the series is based on. I listened to The Crow Trap on audiobook and loved the narrator, so I’ll definitely be continuing the series in that format.

Vera, in character and looks, is unusual for a DI (as I mentioned earlier), but her sad, lonely past and present, excess drinking, and tendency toward brooding thoughts are on par with plenty of male detectives in other series. Her way of catching possible suspects off guard by pretending to take them into her confidence with warm, friendly chat is unique among the British detectives I’ve read. She’s likable, with all her rough edges and insecurities about her size and appearance, and she’s wily and always gets her murderer in the end. The latest in the Vera Stanhope series was published in 2017: The Seagull. Have you read it yet?

Because I simply could not wait for the library system to bring The Crossing Places (the first in the Ruth Galloway series) to my local library, I bought it for Kindle and read it two sittings. Ruth lives in a cottage near the Norfolk coast with salt marshes nearby. The changing seascape, the wind, the darkness and the isolated quality of her home makes me jumpy just reading about it. She works at a local University and helps the police in their investigations; the fact that she digs up bones for a living does help with the dark, creepy feel.

As often happens to main characters in mysteries, Ruth had a few brushes with death in the first book because she got too close to the truth; those scenes had me on the edge of my seat! I bought the next two in the series for Kindle as well: The Janus Stone and The House at Sea’s End and look forward to gobbling them up. And, if you are lucky enough to have discovered this series years ago and are all caught up, the new release in the series is The Stone Circle.

(Like I mentioned earlier, I am thoroughly enjoying the Vera Stanhope audiobooks. If you’ve never given Audible a try, now is a really good time! You can get two free audiobooks just for trying Audible free for 30 days.) 

If you’ve read either series or have one to recommend, I’d love to hear about it in comments!